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Confessions of A Pastor: Shadow of Doubt

“Faith seems to come easy for some people. They just believe and don’t have questions. Good for them, but faith doesn’t come easy for me. I have to work at it.”

I felt a deep sense of relief when I heard these words come out of the mouth of a much respected mentor in my life. Why? Because my thoughts have often wondered through the corridors of my mind and found themselves darkened by the shadow of doubt.

I over analyze and think way too much about everything. That is not to say my thoughts are the super smart, intellectually educated sort of thoughts. My mind is just constantly observing things around me and internally asking the question, “Why is that so… why is that the way that it is?”

The truth is, I think all of us will experience doubt to some degree or another. Whether it is a tragedy that causes us to question the goodness of God, an academic teacher or professor that raises questions about the reliability of the Bible, a skeptic blogger that argues that faith and reason are incompatible, or a hurt inflicted by other Christians that causes you to question the authenticity of the gospel—we all have times when questions, uncertainties and doubts may crop up in our lives.

Some of my most painful doubts have been induced by disillusionment that resulted from disappointment in other Christians. I know. Christians are human and they’re going to fail us. But, I also went into ministry believing the Church was the hope of the world. I still believe that, but sometimes she disappoints me. Sometimes the Church can be pretty ugly and it is really easy to project one’s disappointments and hurts caused by the Church on God.

Other doubts were provoked by what I would call a wilderness season. A season during which God’s presence in my life felt elusive. Still yet, other doubts were activated by experiences. I have been present with people in their trials and tragedies as a pastoral representative of hope. Yet, there have been a handful of challenges that leave me simply saying, “God, I just don’t understand.” Truth be told, sometimes I feel utterly inadequate to offer hope to other people.

My point is simply to say this: there is probably not a doubt that someone else could have that hasn’t also crossed my synapsis at one point. Your questions about faith and God and the Bible probably wouldn’t shock me. But, I also want to say this: I believe Jesus can meet you in the place of your doubt.

Doubting Thomas

There’s this famous story about a guy named Thomas in John 20:24-29. I say famous because his nickname is what most people have heard the title “Doubting Thomas.” Thomas was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. Thomas witnessed Jesus arrested and knew about his fate. Jesus was arrested and tried for blasphemy against the Law of the Jews, but since Israel was under Roman occupation the Jewish Sanhedrin didn’t hold the power to execute him.

Jesus was turned over to the Romans for his sentencing. Truth be told, the Rome found him not guilty, but it was Passover week so there was a population influx in Jerusalem. The Jewish people weren’t exactly fans of Rome. If executing this Judean rabbi would keep the peace, Rome would oblige. Jesus was crucified. After his death, a wealthy man who followed the ministry of Jesus buried him in his own tomb. That was a Friday.

On Sunday, Mary Magdalene and a few other ladies (Matt. 28:1, Mark 16:1, Luke 24:1) went to the tomb of Jesus to anoint Jesus’ body for a proper burial. Upon arriving at the tomb they found that the stone had been rolled away and the body was gone! The women left to tell the other disciples that the tomb was empty. Notice their conclusion—the tomb was empty but that didn’t mean Jesus was alive. They told the disciples about their findings and the disciples didn’t believe the women. The gospel writers indicate that they thought the women were simply telling idle tales (Mark 16:11, Luke 24:11). Even though the disciples disbelieved the women, Peter and John wanted to go to the tomb and see for themselves.

After finding the tomb empty, they all except Mary Magdalene went back to where they were staying. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene. That evening, the disciples were all huddled up in a room together hiding from the authorities for fear that they would be arrested too. The doors were locked. Jesus supernaturally, but physically appeared to the disciples. All except Thomas. John makes it clear that he was not there.

The other disciples told Thomas about their encounter with Jesus, but he adamantly exclaimed, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (v. 25). I sympathize with Thomas. He simply wanted to experience the very thing they all had experienced. I feel he gets a bad rap. The other disciples doubted the women until they saw Jesus too.

A week later they were all together in a room, doors locked and all. Except this time, Thomas was there. John 20:26-28 reads,

Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

I love this scene because Jesus shows up and meets Thomas right in the place of his doubt. We often see Jesus as scolding him, but I believe (as do other scholars) that the tone is not reprimanding. Jesus meets Thomas’ every demand. Did he have to? Of course not, but he did.

I believe He can meet you in the place of your doubt too.

What Doubt Is Not

It has been helpful for me to remember a few truths about doubt. First, doubt is not the same as disbelief. Doubt is a feeling of uncertainty or a lack of conviction, but disbelief is a refusal to accept something as true.

Second, doubt is not the absence of faith. Faith actually demands a feeling of uncertainty in order for it to be faith. Faith is the presence of actions in the face of our doubts. Faith is stepping out in obedience anyways.

Third, doubt is not a sin needing to be forgiven. Doubt can actually lead to a deeper faith. I “Google” countless things every day. My uncertainty about any given topic inspires my search. Our doubts can actually compel us to seek God more and root our faith deeper.

Anchoring Our Faith

So, how can we navigate the waters of doubt without losing our faith or drifting to far from truth? An anchor is a device, normally made of metal, used to connect a vessel to the bed of a body of water to prevent the craft from drifting due to the wind or the current. Doubts may assault your soul like a gale of wind attacking a ship on the open sea, but there are three things that I believe can anchor our faith:

Anchor your mind to the Word of God. The Scriptures are living and active. I believe the Scriptures have a mysterious capacity to transform us even when we’re not aware of it. Isaiah 55:11 indicates that God accomplishes divine purposes through His word. Hebrews 4:12 describes God’s Word as being living and active—holding the power to reveal our deepest motivations and thoughts.

 Anchor you soul to a faith community. We were made for community and we are shaped by the communities in which we find belonging. I am so thankful that I have a few people with whom I can process my questions and doubts. I am so thankful for my church and the community of believes I strive to follow Jesus alongside.

Anchor your heart to a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. Probably the number one thing that has kept my faith intact is my inescapable love and belief in Jesus. The God I encounter in Jesus is so compelling and inspiring to me that at the end of the day I simply believe He is who He said He is and He came to do what He said He did.

“If we trust in a formula, if we trust in steps, we are not trusting in God…There are many religions, and many religious sects within the faith of Christianity. Do I believe some are more scripturally faithful than others? Yes. But none of them matter in the slightest if formulas replace a personal relationship with Jesus. He is the authority we need. He is the God we must cling to for salvation. And He is a Person, not a list of ideas, not a theology.” –Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What

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